Whether you’re a student, a professional or just want to stay connected and productive, a laptop is one of the most important tools of the trade. But some are better than others, with wide differences in keyboards, battery life, displays and design. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that easily fits in your bag and doesn’t break your back, you want an ultrabook.
The “ultrabook” moniker was originally coined by Intel in 2012 and used to refer to a set of premium, super-thin laptops that met the chipmaker’s predefined standards. However, just as many folks refer to tissues as Kleenexes or web searching as Googling, the term ultrabook commonly refers to any premium ultraportable laptop, whether it carries Intel’s seal of approval or not.
There are more premium laptop choices today than ever before, with options ranging in size and form factor from 10-inch 2-in-1s to 17-inch workstations. To help you choose, we review scores of laptops every year, evaluating not only their performance but also their usability and value. We list all of the best gaming laptops elsewhere on our site, but below you’ll find our favorite ultrabooks and premium laptops.
Best Ultrabooks and premium laptops at a glance:
Quick Ultrabook / Premium Laptop Shopping Tips
- Get a good keyboard: Whether you’re using an ultrabook to browse the web, send emails, code, write or do other productivity work, the keyboard is one of your primary ways of interacting. Get something with responsive keys that aren’t mushy. Low-travel is ok if the keys have the right feel to them, but the last thing you want to do is “bottom out” while typing.
- Consider what you need in a screen: At a minimum, your laptop should have a 1920 x 1080 screen. Some laptops offer 4K options, though it’s sometimes harder to see the difference at 13-inches or below. While 4K may be more detailed, 1080p screens give you much longer battery life.
- Some laptops can be upgraded: While CPUs and GPUs are almost always soldered down, some laptops let you replace the RAM and storage, so you can buy cheaper now and add more memory and a bigger hard drive or SSD down the road. But the thinnest laptops may not have that option.
- Battery life is important: Aim for something that lasts for 8 hours or longer on a charge (gaming is an exception). For productivity, many laptops easily surpass this number. But be wary of manufacturer claims, which don’t always use strenuous tests. Some laptops are starting to add fast charging, which is a nice bonus.
Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2020
Best Ultrabook Overall
CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Plus (integrated) | Display: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, touchscreen | Weight: 2.7 pounds / 1.2 kg
While there are thinner ultrabooks out there, it’s easy to recommend the HP Spectre x360 as the top laptop. Our review configuration , with its Intel Core i7-1065G7 and a 1920 x 1080 touch screen is powerful enough for most people. If you want stronger productivity performance, you may want to consider an ultrabook with one of Intel’s Comet Lake CPUs rather than this Ice Lake option.
One of the Spectre’s biggest draws is its selection of ports, a feature you don’t see on all of the best ultrabooks. For what is still a thin machine, you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports (over USB Type-C), USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1, a micro SD card reader and a headphone jack. Several laptop manufacturers have given up on Type-A to chase thinness, but the USB Type-A port on the Spectre has a drop-jaw design to make it fit.
The ultrabook also has a snappy keyboard and strong battery life. It lasted 13 hours and 19 seconds on our test, so it should easily last you all day.
Best Ultrabook Clamshell
CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Plus (integrated) | Display: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, touchscreen | Weight: 2.8 pounds / 1.2 kg
Long considered one of the best ultrabooks around, the Dell XPS 13 is easily recommendable, especially if you want something that’s very thin and light.
If you want stronger performance, an alternate model with a Comet Lake processor may be for you. But this design, which we reviewed with an Intel Core i7-1065G7 “Ice Lake” processor is far more sleek.
The move to a 16:10 display gives more vertical space on the screen, which is great for productivity. Instead of a 1920 x 1080 display on the XPS 13’s base panel, you get 1920 x 1200, which goes up to 3840 x 2400 (rather than 3840 x 2160) on the 4K screen.
The XPS 13 also fared extremely well on our battery test, lasting over 13 hours on a model with a 1920 x 1200 display. The 4K display lasted a respectable 8 hours and 14 minutes on a charge.
The Best Mac
CPU: Intel Core i9-9980HK | GPU: AMD Radeon Pro 5500M | Display: 16-inch, 3072 x 1920, True Tone | Weight: 4.3 pounds / 2 kg
The Mac option on our list is the most powerful premium laptop Apple has ever made: the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It has Apple’s latest “Magic Keyboard,” (the nice one), and has a discrete AMD Radeon Pro 5500M for graphics work.
It offers long battery life, and if you care about audio, we’ve never heard better sound from a laptop than on this one.
The 16-inch screen fits in a 15-inch chassis, so you’re not losing any portability by going with the bigger size.
But it’s not cheap, so if you need to spend less, consider the 13-inch model. We reviewed the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 10th Gen Intel processors and the Magic Keyboard and found it to be a solid refresh without the discrete graphics.
The Best Gaming Laptop Overall
CPU: Intel Core i9-9880H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 | Display: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080, 240 Hz | Weight: 5 pounds / 2.3 kg
It’s no lightweight, either in terms of speed or poundage, but the MSI GE65 Raider is the best gaming laptop, because of its sophisticated design and strong performance. That’s a great combination for a rig.
In our testing, the Raider often beat laptops that were several hundred dollars more. MSI’s laptop also stood out with its productivity scores thanks to our high-specced review unit.
It also has impressive per-key RGB keyboard lighting from SteelSeries, and the USB Type-A ports light up, which is a nice touch.
Read: MSI GE65 Raider review
The Best Ultrabook for Work
CPU: Intel Core i7-8665U | GPU: Intel UHD 620 (integrated) | Display: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 touchscreen | Weight: 2.5 pounds / 1.1 kg
The HP Dragonfly Elite is a work ultrabook that you can envy. It feels just as good as premium consumer-grade machines, unlike some business laptops that feel clunky and outdated. Beyond the style, it also boasts long battery life.
The keyboard is tactile and clicky, and there’s a great selection of ports. The ultrabook has both Thunderbolt 3 and full-sized USB Type-A for peripherals old and new.
As of our review, CPU options were stuck at 8th Gen, as no newer business-focused chips with vPro were yet announced.
|HP Spectre x360 (13-inch)||Up to Intel Core i7-1065G7||Intel Iris Plus Graphics||Up to 16GB LPDDR4||Up to 2TB PCie NVMe SSD||13.3inches, up to 4K|
|Dell XPS 13 (9300)||Up to Intel Core i7-1065G7||Intel Iris Plus Graphics||Up to 32GB LPDDR4X||Up to 2TB PCie NVMe SSD||13.4-inches, up to 3840 x 2400|
|MacBook Pro (16-inch)||Up to Intel Core i9-9980HK||Up to AMD Radeon Pro 5500M||Up to 64GB DDR4||Up to 8TB SSD||16 inches, 3072 x 1920|
|MSI GE65 Raider||Up to i9-9880H||Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070||Up to 32GB DDR4||Up to 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD||15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, up to 240 Hz|
|HP Elite Dragonfly||Up to Intel Core i7-8665U||Intel UHD Graphics 620||Up to 16GB LPDDR3||Up to 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD||13.3 inches, 1920 x 1080, optional SureView privacy|